MAXINE GORDON and friends check out one of York's newest restaurants

SAPORI is the city's newest Italian restaurant, setting up home in a characterful two-storey building in York's historic heart: Shambles.

The site once housed another Italian restaurant, L'antica Locanda, and anyone familiar with that place will hardly recognise Sapori.

Sure, it is still a compact restaurant with just a dozen or so tables, but the insides have been given a lick of white paint which has made it look instantly more modern and inviting.

There were three of us, old friends and former colleagues. We hadn't seen each other for ten months, so there was a lot of catching up to do.

But firstly, that name. Sapori sounds like a fine Japanese rice wine, or exotic sushi dish, but in fact means "flavours" in Italian, as our friendly waiter pointed out. He also added it was a Sardinian restaurant - one of several now in the city.

As we browsed the menu – nice and short, which we all appreciated (we all hate being over-faced by too much choice when eating out) – we hoped the restaurant would live up to its name and serve us dishes to savour and remember.

It all began well as we shared the humbly-named meat and cheeses board (£9.95 or £14.95 for two). This was a lovely selection of Italian cured meats including parma ham, salami and bresaola and four different cheeses with my favourite being a wonderfully pungent Gorgonzola. It all came with four doorsteps of toasted Italian bread and dish of big, juicy, salty green olives. It was the perfect starter and we cleared the lot – finding it quite filling.

The platter was one of six starters on offer: others included Italian classics such as bruschetta and Caprese salad. However, the specials' board offered something more adventurous: baby octopus in a spicy tomato sauce (£8.95).

Selecting from the specials' options, for her main course, my friend Becky picked the gnocchi Sorrentina – potato dumplings baked in the oven with tomato and mozzarella (£9.95). This was attractively served in a square white porcelain dish, piping hot. It was really tasty, she said, the gnocchi being nice and firm with a bit of give, and the rich tangy sauce hard to beat. Becky observed it was perfect for vegetarians, but as a meat eater she would have liked the option to have had it with chicken.

Lisa decided to plump for something traditional, seeing it as a test of the kitchen. She chose lasagne (£9.95) and declared it one of the best she'd eaten. Lasagne can sometimes be sloppy, but this was the opposite: a firm brick of a dish, with clearly defined layers of pasta and meat, and a crispy top (just as it should be in my book).

Lasagne was one of six pasta dishes on the menu, and I chose another: linguine allo scoglio, or seafood linguine (£13.95). This was a generous portion, but mostly on account of the linguine, which came in a heap with still a bit of a chew to it. The menu promised mussels, tiger prawns, squid and langoustines, and they were there, but you had to dig deep to find them, and I would have liked some more for the price. The tomato sauce was described as "delicate" but the overriding taste was one of salt (perhaps not surprising from the seafood) and I would have preferred a better balance so I could taste the sweetness of the tomatoes.

We ordered some side dishes, including spinach, roasted potatoes, grilled asparagus and the rocket and parmesan salad (all at £3.50). The only one that stood out was the asparagus, which was perfectly cooked to retain a pleasing bite, and lovingly dressed in a flavourful olive oil.

There is also a choice of meat and fish dishes on the menu should you prefer, including steak, chicken, sea bass and swordfish.

To finish, we shared a couple of desserts: tiramisu and a warm chocolate cake with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice-cream (each £5.95). These were both delicious, and very sinful. The tiramisu, like the lasagne, was nice and firm, rather than gloopy. The chocolate cake was dense and rich, and the cool, sweet ice-cream was heavenly as it melted and melded with the chocolate sauce to make puddles of sheer loveliness.

With a glass of rosé (£6) and two soft drinks (£3) each, the bill for the three of us came to £83.20, which we thought was good value.

We did like Sapori and given it has just been open a few weeks they seem to be doing most things right.

If there was one criticism, we were left a long time after desserts before being able to pay – and no one asked if we wanted another drink or coffee. This seems to happen a lot in restaurants these days and is one of my bug bears, so hopefully the lovely staff at Sapori will take note.

Another gripe of mine is that, when paying by card, you are prompted to add a tip (I prefer to leave a tip in cash, hopefully so it goes straight to the waiter). At Sapori, they presented me with a tablet with various levels of tip suggested. It began at 10 per cent then went higher and higher. I don't think many people in York will tip more than ten per cent, which I think is more than adequate, and I suspect this might not be popular with customers.

Sapori, 33 Shambles, York


T: 07956 116237

Food: Mostly good 3.5/5

Service: Friendly 4/5

Ambience: Intimate 4/5

Value: Decent 4/5

Reviews are independent and meals paid for by The Press.